Into the Mist: The Bears-Eagles ‘Fog Bowl’ 30 years later
CHICAGO – It’s fitting that it would be that opponent at this time for the team. The anniversary is just too fitting.
Thanks to a Bears’ win over the Vikings and the Eagles’ victory over Washington on Sunday, the two squads will meet in the Wild Card round of the NFL playoffs this Sunday.
It’s just their fourth-ever meeting in the postseason, and comes 17 years after the last one. But that’s not the anniversary that popped into mind once Bears’ fans thought of the opponent, the playoffs, or the anniversary that arrives Monday after the match-up was set.
Mother Nature takes most of the credit for that.
On December 31, 1988, the Bears and the Eagles took part in the famous “Fog Bowl” at Soldier Field. It was an NFC Divisional Playoff game like no others in the history of the league – where low-lying clouds moved across the lake and into the bowl.
It both literally and figuratively overshadowed another match-up of Mike Ditka’s Bears with former defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan’s Eagles. The 20-12 victory by the home team put them into their first NFC Championship since 1985.
Yet all of that took a back seat to the Windy City’s foggy day.
Funny thing is that weather didn’t appear to be a factor early on, when bright sunshine greeted another full house at Soldier Field. The Bears entered as the No. 1 seed in the NFC, hoping to overcome back-to-back playoff exits in the divisional round after a Super Bowl XX title.
Ryan took the Eagles to the playoffs for the first time since taking over as head coach after the Bears’ win over the Patriots in January of 1986. Philadelphia won their last two games of the season to get to 10-6, beating out the Giants for the NFC East title thanks to a season sweep of New York.
It was an active first half under the sun as the teams were able to find the scoreboard a number of times. Dennis McKinnon opened the scoring by breaking free to catch a pass from Mike Tomczak, going 64 yards for the touchdown to make it 7-0. Randall Cunningham – who threw for a career-high 3,808 yards in 1988 – led a pair of scoring drives after that, but was forced to settle for two Luis Zendejas field goals to make it 7-6.
Tomczak and the Bears reached the endzone again, as the Bears finished off a drive with a four-yard rushing touchdown from Neal Anderson to make it 14-6. Kevin Butler made it 17-6 soon after with his first field goal of the day.
Then things got weird.
After that field goal, with 1:52 to go in the second quarter, fog started to roll into Soldier Field. CBS play-by-play announcer Verne Lundquist wondered at first if it was smoke or fog.
“Whatever, it’s eerie,” said Lundquist to color commentator Terry Bradshaw, who immediately pointed out that it was fog.
It ushered in the most unusual 31:52 seconds of football in Soldier Field history.
Cunningham cut through the fog to hit Keith Jackson with a pass, and the tight end took it inside the Bears’ ten-yard line. Yet again they couldn’t find the endzone, settling for a third Zendejas field goal to make it 17-9.
As the fog got thicker, both Tomczak and Cunningham were picked off in the final minute of the second quarter as the Bears took an eight-point lead into the half.
As the fog continued into the start of the second half, the broadcast was shown from the field cameras instead of the ones overhead due to the conditions. Bradshaw even moved from the booth to the field in an effort to provide better commentary.
Yet referee Jim Tunney let the game continue since there was no danger to spectators and he could still see the majority of the field. He recalled in a column he wrote this week for the Monterey Herald that he asked both Ditka and Ryan if they were OK with the game going on, and they both said yes.
With Tunney announcing the down-and-distance to the crowd, the game continued in the same process as it had before. Cunningham continued to rack up yardage but threw two interceptions and could only get Philadelphia a field goal in the final 30 minutes.
Jim McMahon relieved an injured Tomczak and led the Bears on a fourth quarter scoring drive, going up by eight on a 27-yard field goal by Butler. With time ticking down and the fog remaining heavy in the stadium, Maurice Douglass intercepted Cunningham to seal the game.
The fog was so thick, it took a while for Lundquist to identify which Bears’ player came away with the interception. Philadelphia’s quarterback finished with 407 yards on 27-of-54 passing, but was doomed by this three picks on the day.
Thirty-years later, it’s still hard to see through the fog as the broadcasts of this now infamous game have made their way online.
It ended up being the highlight of the Bears’ season, as they would go onto lose to the 49ers the next week at home in the NFC Championship. Oddly enough, that was a game remembered for being one of the coldest in the stadium’s history due to heavy winds – making a 17-degree kickoff temperature feel like -26 according to the broadcast.
Yet the prevailing memory continues to be the day in which Mother Nature took control in a most unusual way. The fog, ironically, created one of the clearest memories of any game for Bears’ fan over the past three decades.